Medicine is a very competitive course to get into and it can be more challenging for those students who don’t have prior knowledge of applying to uni from their parents. If you are a student from a widening participation background (i.e. first person to go to uni, received ready meals, etc), then there are many routes to get into medicine if you didn’t get the three As in your a levels, or think you might not get them.
I was one of those students, and I got ABC on my A levels (Biology, Chemistry and Maths respectively) and now I’m a second year medical student.
So how did I do it? I got into a foundation year, which let me transfer to University of Sheffield to do Medicine A100. I’ll talk more about this later, so make sure to read the whole blog! But first, let me talk a little bit about the different routes into medicine.
Alternative routes into medicine
- Graduate entry medicine: this is for students who already have a degree, but don’t have the required A-levels (and don’t wish to retake) to go through standard undergraduate entry again. GEM can be 4/5 years long as a course. Less unis offer graduate medicine, so it can be more competitive to get into, and you need a strong 2:1 in your previous degree.
- Medicine with a foundation year/gateway year: these are courses aimed at students who either 1) don’t have the right A-levels to get into medicine, or; 2) won’t reach the standard grades to enter medicine (AAA). Some foundation/gateway courses are specifically aimed at widening participation, so might have extra criteria.
- Transferring to medicine from a different course: this is much more rare, but it’s how I got into medicine, through the Foundation in Clinical Sciences/Medicine course at Bradford University, from which I transferred to Medicine at Sheffield.
You can find out more about different routes into medicine via our Guides.
My route into medicine
I applied to the Foundation in Clinical Sciences/Medicine at Bradford after I didn’t get any of my 5 UCAS choices. I applied to this through UCAS Extra (this is when you have no firmed choice, so you are entitled to make another application to any courses that might still have places).
This course lets you apply to medicine at Sheffield at the end of completing the foundation course, at the end of June. You need to get the required grades in the foundation course- in my case it was 70% in Chemistry and 70% overall- and be a WP student to apply. Several other unis accept the foundation year grades, but you need to ask them individually as they change every year.
Choosing to do a Foundation Year
I wanted to get into medicine, however I was rejected by all my choices because of my low UCAT and BMAT scores, which I predicted as I didn’t revise properly for either of them. I also didn’t think I would be getting the grades that I needed for medicine because of how much Covid disrupted my studies.
My other option was to get into graduate medicine, but I didn’t want to do a full three year course on something research related, such as Biomedicine. But I still wanted to do medicine, so before committing to doing a full degree and getting into graduate medicine, I did some research into what other options I had.
While I scoured the web for more information, I found some information about Foundation Years that allow transfers into Medicine if you get the right grades.
Most of the options were very competitive, with only the top 2-3 students transferring, and there were no guaranteed spaces for each year. However, the Foundation Year at Bradford University for Clinical Sciences had a scheme with the University of Sheffield, where each year there are 40 spaces available for students from Bradford to transfer into Sheffield, as long as the grades were achieved, they met their UCAT threshold (found on the University of Sheffield’s website) and passed the interview stage. Out of the options, this seemed to have the most potential.
I entered into Extra on UCAS and added this foundation year as my choice. I was still on the fence whether I wanted to do it or not, but I thought it was a safe choice to put down for the time being (as the grade requirements were low). After a while, I felt like this decision was the right one for me, a gut feeling to say, as I didn’t want to redo my A levels (I just wanted to leave A level maths behind!!!). It was a risky move, but I felt confident that I would have been able to get the grades required, and I wanted to move away from home and become more independent.
What was the Foundation Year like?
The foundation year has six different modules, covering different topics, such as Biology, Chemistry, Anatomy and Health and society to name a few. Topics such as anatomy and health & society were completely new to me, but they were very helpful to me when I started medicine. For the level of difficulty, Chemistry was at the same level as A level Chemistry, although lecturers did tend to go in more detail than needed for exams. Biology did however go into more detail and is more at uni level and there is heavier focus on human physiology. But I found that the content itself wasn’t very hard, rather the amount was quite a bit more than A levels, but still doable.
There were other modules which were more coursework based, and it included things like writing a lab report, essay, health information booklet, and giving presentations. The most difficult part of the foundation year was to balance the coursework while not neglecting the exam modules like Biology and Chemistry. The entry requirements to then apply for Sheffield Medicine were 70% overall and 70% in Chemistry. If either of these were not met, then you would get rejected straight away from medicine and not get an interview. So, it was balancing the work I was doing and making sure that I was revising for Chemistry as it was the hardest and most important module for me.
The best part of uni was the friends that I made that year. I’m from Birmingham and I was moving away from home for the first time, all the way to Bradford, so I was really homesick and lonely in a completely new place full of strangers. But what made me get through all of that enjoy my time there were the amazing friends I made. I’m still very much in contact with them, and they are some of the lifelong friends that I’m going to have. While it was a scary move, it made me grow so much and become much more independent, both socially and in my studies.
I’m not going to lie, it was hard, more so as the future seemed so uncertain to me. What if I didn’t get the grades? What happens then? Do I continue the course? Get into graduate medicine? Or leave medicine forever? I’ve wanted to do medicine since I was a kid, as cliché as that sounds, but it’s the truth and I didn’t want to give that up. And it’s why I took that risk, and looking back I’m really glad I did. I had very strict parents, and going to uni and living on my own gave me the freedom that I never had before. I could finally focus on my studies, my mental health, and have a social life.
So would you recommend doing a Foundation Year?
I would definitely recommend a foundation year if you’re in a similar position as me. But it might not suit everyone. For example, if you have AAB in your A levels, it might be easier to retake that A level rather than do a whole foundation year. It really depends on your circumstances, but what I’d say is don’t give up on medicine because of bad grades.
Research into your options, chances are that there is something out there that’s right for you. I knew that graduate entry into medicine wasn’t for me, as I was already struggling with A levels (I had undiagnosed ADHD at that time) and I just didn’t have any motivation to do a whole three year degree at that point. It’s why I chose a foundation degree, as I knew it was only for a year: if things didn’t work out for me, my plan was to leave that course with my foundation year certificate and try out something else.
I just want to say that, life happens. Things happen in our personal life that don’t let us give our 100% on academia and we don’t achieve the things we are capable of. For me, I was struggling with my mental health, an undiagnosed learning disability, and the pandemic. I felt like a failure for getting rejected by all my uni choices, including my fifth choice (I applied to Kings for Biomed but they rejected me since I wanted to do medicine and the course was really competitive). But I wasn’t a failure: rejection is redirection!
And as much as I love medicine, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get in. It’s a good career choice, but there are so many other things that you can do, and at the end of the day its’s just that: a job. Don’t lose your life while chasing a job, make sure to look after yourself, and enjoy your life, because that’s what counts!